1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Milton

William Henry Ireland, "John Milton" Neglected Genius (1812) 9-14 &n.



To thee, gigantic genius, next I'll sound
The clarion string, and fill fame's vasty round;
'Tis Milton beams upon the wond'ring sight,
Rob'd in the splendor of Apollo's light;
As when from ocean bursting on the view,
His orb dispenses ev'ry brilliant hue,
Crowns with resplendant gold th' horizon wide,
And clothes with countless gems the buoyant tide;
While through the boundless realms of aether blaze,
On spotless azure, streamy saffron rays:—
So o'er the world of genius Milton shone,
Profound in science — as the bard — alone.
No subject vast but own'd his mental reign,
Angels themselves, applauding, grace his train;
His pow'r so sov'reign — so sublime the spell,
He soars to heav'n, or plunges into hell;
Pictures the regions of eternal bliss,
Or boldly paints the fathomless abyss;
From angels clad in pure empyrial glow,
Descends to chaos and the realms of woe;
Or from extolling God with hallowing breath,
Terrific blazons Satan, sin, and death.
Nor less he proves imagination's heat,
When magic o'er his thoughts usurps the seat:
Fancy with rapid vans proclaims the lay,
And mystic spirits his commands obey;
Minions of evil flit thro' ev'ry scene,
While virtue, inly arm'd, remains serene:
Or summons from her cell the pensive muse,
Milton her melancholy can infuse,
While jocund mirth, with Momus' laughing band,
From his prolific brain dance hand in hand:
Mortal or scenes immortal he cou'd scan,
Endless the race his tow'ring spirit ran.
If such the poet — such his force sublime,
With mind capacious as unmatch'd his rhyme;
If more than mortal themes his pen display'd;
If more than mundane thoughts his fancy ray'd;
Where slept refinement, when years roll'd away,
And scarce one mind paid homage to his lay:
This heav'nly record by no praise was grac'd;
His Fall of Man enroll'd the fall of taste.
This mighty bard, though conscious of his worth,
Scarce gain'd the plaudits of the sons of earth;
Sunk to the grave, and left a future age
To hail with reverence his glorious page.
Disgraceful apathy; can this be known,
And Britain still avow her genius prone
To foster worth, and from untimely fate
Rescue the living who are truly great?
How false the boast, on Albion's sea-girt shore,
Maecena's ne'er display'd the fost'ring store;
For ever mute the soul-reviving breath
Of glowing patronage, till, rob'd in death,
The late exalted spirit lacks no aid,
From earth translated to Elysium's shade:
Thus he who ne'er for wealth had cause to sue,
Lack'd during life the meed of praise, his due;
And like the bark which erst Ulysses bore,
By tempests beaten from the destin'd shore,
So genius to life's billows spreads the sail,
And meets the veering of each fateful gale;
With manly dignity o'er surges rides,
And dares the battl'ing of opposing tides.
But when some fav'ring wind his course impels,
The glowing soul with eager transport swells;
This passing gleam as permanent he greets,
And hopes in future for a life of sweets:
Deceitful thought! the storm more furious drives,
Against his doom in vain the genius strives;
Fate's rock impedes — the bark, impetuous hurl'd,
Sinks 'midst the yawning billows of this world:
Thus terminates bright fancy's glowing scope,
The life of genius, but the grave of hope.
Such is the poet's fate; on earth distress'd,
To rank sublime when sharing death's chill rest:
Transcendant Milton, 'twas thy lot to feel
That man, whose image bears his Maker's seal,
Can still neglect the choicest blessing giv'n,
A godlike mind, true attribute of heav'n.
Here cease, my lay, — indignant feelings rise,
My tow'ring spirit points to kindred skies;
Spurns the base earth, and loathes the cruel race,
Where pow'r is idoliz'd, and gold finds grace;
Where pining virtue scarce can find a shed,
To shield from ruthless winds its drooping head;
Where honesty in tatter'd vestments weeps,
While ermin'd villany luxurious sleeps:
In fine, where merit, without aid of wealth,
Is like a gem unique, procur'd by stealth;
Fear makes the holder keep the store enshrin'd,
And genius lacks an expanse for the mind:
Timid conceals the gem of innate worth;
Fancy, oft nipp'd, scarce giving blossoms birth;
And wither'd thus by mundane wintry wind,
Scarce leaves an odour of its sweets behind.

It is scarcely credible that a poem so replete with expansion of thought, and godlike imagery, as Milton's Paradise Lost, should have remained unknown during the life-time of the poet, and for many years after. Mr. Dryden, indeed, has given his approbation of the work, and his opinion of the author, in an excellent epigram, generally prefixed to Paradise Lost, or subjoined to the portrait of the author; but it was not till Mr. Addison published his admirable critique in the Spectator, that the beauties of this extraordinary production of fancy became generally understood, and the whole merits of the poem admired. Paradise Lost was first printed in 1667; and for this immortal work Milton received but fifteen pounds, which were paid by installments.